(Editor’s note: October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Domestic violence is the Mid-South’s number one violent crime problem, and it is also one of United Way’s top community priorities. Barbara King is the Executive Director of the Exchange Club Family Center, part of United Way’s network of partner agencies on the front lines of addressing this important issue. The agency held a domestic violence awareness rally earlier today, and King shares thoughts on the issue below.)
As a result of several recent high profile cases, the crime of domestic violence is currently being discussed through numerous media outlets and at many gatherings of leaders and advocates who want to make a difference. There is no question that this violence is devastating to the adult victim and she needs the support and guidance of family members, peers, professionals and often the criminal justice system to make the break from the violence and fear.
In addition, in domestic violence situations where children are in the home and witness the violence, they are often equally as traumatized as the adult. In order to decrease the probability of these children continuing this cycle, they need help in admitting that the violence is occurring, recognizing and voicing their feelings, understanding the dynamics of abuse, gaining self-esteem, and learning alternate ways to settle conflicts without the use of threats and/or violence. The children also need help in developing their own safety plan.
To help these children who are often referred to as the “silent victims”, The Exchange Club Family Center has designed a comprehensive program to meet the needs of both the adult victims and children. The Children’s Domestic Violence Program, started in 1997, provides: (1) safety planning and referral services to all families who contact the Exchange Club regarding domestic violence, (2) comprehensive psycho-social evaluations of families who have been exposed to domestic violence, and (3) weekly therapeutic groups for mothers and children. The purpose and focus of these groups is to help both mothers and children recognize the potential impact of domestic violence and to reduce the degree of depression, anxiety, rage, or isolation that they are feeling. This program is provided at no charge to these families and anyone can take part in these services at any time.
It is vital that children receive the help they need to cope with the devastating effects of witnessing someone they love be beaten and humiliated. Without it, we are only helping to create another generation of teens and adults who see violence as the only means to solve conflict and who think that power can only be achieved by making those around them fearful for their lives and the lives of their children.